Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution can be reconciled, said Sherman Jackson.
Jackson, professor of religion and director of the Center for Islamic Thought, Culture and Practice at the University of Southern California sought to explain the differences and similarities between Sharia Law and the United States Constitution Tuesday night in the Cox Auditorium as the inaugural lecture of the Siddiqi Lecture Series in Islamic studies.
"I think that there's a lot of misunderstanding, both about Sharia on the one hand and the nature of the American constitution on the other hand," Jackson said to preface his lecture.
Jackson said he thinks this misunderstanding contributes to the incorrect assumption that Sharia and the Constitution are fundamental opposites, incapable of any kind of compromise.
"I think that if we step back and take a moment to understand the two more properly, then much of that fear, that presumed clash, will dissipate," he said. "It won't disappear, but much of it will dissipate."
To Jackson, reconciliation between the two comes with a better understanding of self-imposed limitations placed on the scope of both the Constitution and Sharia Law.
"There are things that the constitution doesn't want to do, and there are things that Sharia doesn't want to do," Jackson said. "Within that space that's left by that, there's a lot that we can do, regardless of our religious affiliation."
While the constitution limits itself by allowing U.S. citizens freedom of religion, Jackson explained that Sharia Law limits itself by allowing Muslims the freedom to address secular topics which have no religious standing without necessarily having to consult Sharia.
Therefore, freedom of religion allows Muslims to carry out the spiritual obligations in Sharia, while allowing them to recognize the legitimacy of the Constitution on secular matters not specifically addressed in Sharia.
Nadeem Siddiqi, a managing partner at Siddiqi Holdings and namesake of the lecture series, said being able to comprehend that connection allows for better understanding of the two entities in general.
"I think the crux of the matter is basically recognizing that there are limits to Sharia that don't infringe on areas of American life and there (are) limits to the constitution that allow for freedom of religion," Siddiqi said.
Layla Husain, a UT alumna and attendee of the event, said she thinks a primary misconception Americans have is that because many religious elements of Sharia disagree with certain social practices allowed by the Constitution, like drinking alcohol, many think Muslims want to impose their moral code on American law.
"Especially from an Islamic perspective, I think that a lot of people see it as equivalent in their mind whatever a Muslim considers immoral is automatically considered illegal, and this idea that Muslims would want to impose that on living in a society with them," Husain said. "I think it was very clearly stated that that is not at all the case."
Jackson said the fact that the Constitution endorses what are considered to be "immoral acts" according to Sharia should not affect a Muslim's ability to recognize the Constitution.
However, Jackson said misconceptions about Muslims and Sharia often come from a fear and lack of trust which lead to misunderstandings.
"It's not just ignorance, it is really the lack of an existence of levels of trust that will enable us to actually communicate with each other," he said.
Ultimately, Jackson said he hopes his lecture and lectures similar will promote discussions and encourage students to think critically to understand concepts like Sharia.
Jackson said, "I want to be a part of the proliferation of forums where we can talk about these things in a manner that breeds not necessarily agreement, but certainly understanding."